Dare led Rode to protect presidential helicopter
Monday, May 26, 2014 12:00 AM
DELPHOS — Jim Rode entered the Marines in July 1970 on a dare from his brother.
“My brother Tony told me I couldn’t make it through boot camp,” Rode recalled. “He was in the Marines in Da Nang during Veitnam. So I signed up to prove him wrong.”
Rode, one of nine children, signed up on the 180-day Delay Program in October 1969 when he was 17 and went in on July 1970 after he turned 18. He was sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, but his boot camp was delayed for lack of an instructor.
“We had to wait for a drill instructor so I spent the time getting mentally prepared to prove my brother wrong,” Rode said.
Once he met the challenge from his sibling he was a cook and MP before another opportunity arose. When Rode was station at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he was called to the main office and asked if he would be willing to go to Quantico.
“I was really surprised,” Rode said. “The offer to go to Quantico was a big deal. I had to pass a background check for whatever I was going to do there.”
Rode became a member of the military police while his clearance paperwork was processed.
“I watched prisoners while they performed community service,” he said. “It was a good job.”
Once his paperwork received a stamp of approval, Rode began traveling to the White House to pick up correspondence and perform other classified duties.
“I was in a special unit,” Rode said. “We had to be ready to pick up and go wherever we were needed. I’d get a phone call to pack my bags, I was leaving in two days. I wouldn’t find out where I was going until the next day when I got my papers.”
Rode reached the rank of Lance Corporal and in March 1971, he became a guard in Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 (HMX-1), the squadron responsible for the transportation of the President of the United States, Vice President, cabinet members and other VIPs. A Marine helicopter which has the president aboard uses the call sign “Marine One.”
Rode’s assignment was to guard the helicopter used to transport the likes of President Richard Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew and Henry Kissinger. At the time, Watergate was still several years away and Nixon was a celebrated president who made unprecedented steps to improve relations between the U.S. and China.
Rode said he liked his duties and if he could have stayed with it, he would have made a career of the military.
“They switch everyone around on those duties every few years, so I knew I wouldn’t be doing it forever,” he said.
Momentos from his time in HMX-1 include a set of rock glasses with the presidential seal and Nixon’s signature, cigarettes that were available on “Marine one” for those who smoked, and an elegant, velvet-bound Christmas card from the Nixons.
“I couldn’t imagine him (Nixon) getting into the trouble he did. I’m glad I wasn’t there for that,” Rode said. “I never personally spoke with the President but he was always very respectful of us and others around him.”
Rode was discharged in July 1973 and returned home to Delphos and started a family. He has three children and three grandchildren and drives truck for K&M Tire. He and his wife, Mary, are enjoying being grandparents.
His time in the service is something he takes great pride in and that feeling is shared by his family and displayed on a “Marine” wall in his dining room. Like many, what he took from his service to his country can’t be seen or felt by others.
“Being in the service makes you grow up fast and teaches you a lot,” Rode said. “You learn a lot of respect very quickly. Semper Fi.”